Austen's bad boys
Posted by Jane Elizabeth on September 18, 1997 at 17:25:00:
In response to A Theory of Mansfield Park, written by Ann on September 17, 1997 at 18:28:19
Thanks for a thought-provoking essay, Ann.
All this makes me wonder what Austen really thought of men. The bulk of her male characters are unable to rise above their essentially idle existences, and they get into mischief as a result. Edward proposes to Lucy, Willoughby and Wickham behave badly to maintain their lives of leisure, Henry launches himself at Fanny, Elliott at Anne...even minor male characters are no prizes (Bingley is weak and easily swayed). Only Darcy and Knightly, in their good management of their estates, and Wentworth, as a sea captain, have enough gumption to carve out worthy lives for themselves.
I imagine Jane, unable to change her role(s) in life because of her gender, shaking her finger at these sad examples of idle gentry. They at least had the power to make something of themselves, and yet through laziness, moral weakness or other faults did not do so. Perhaps she never married because she encountered few men of character other than her brothers, surely the models for her moral heroes. She invented indelible examples of worthy men (Darcy, Knightly, Wentworth) but perhaps never met their equal in real life. Her heart was indeed obstinate: she wasn't likely to settle for a Frank Churchill when there might be a Knightly on the horizon.
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